Like Traveling: Jim Black AlasNoAxis – “Antiheroes”


Jim Black - "Antiheroes"What I’ve always found interesting about drummer Jim Black and his AlasNoAxis outfit is their ability to develop a signature sound while constantly switching up genres and influences like a chef making up a dish anew each time he prepares it from the same batch of ingredients.

On Black’s newest, Antiheroes, the AlasNoAxis crew makes use of similar ingredients… there’s some jazz, some drone, some post-rock… and it sounds like an AlasNoAxis recording.  And yet, there’s something strikingly different about this recording.

Your album personnel: Jim Black (drums), Hilmar Jensson (guitar), Skúli Sverrisson (bass), and Chris Speed (saxophone).

Apparently Black began composing the music for this album on his Brooklyn home turf, but then traveled through Europe, spending time in Austria, in Iceland, in Greece, continuing to write the music, performing with other musicians, vacationing… an immersion into life on the road.  The music on Antiheroes reflects that sense of motion, of constantly being on the move, sometimes in a hurried pace, sometimes at the greatest leisure.  It also reflects the lack of roots, of being away from Home, of perpetually surrounding oneself with new environments, disparate interactions, and the big wide formlessness that comes with an adventurous spirit and the understanding that new days in new territory can result in the most unexpected experiences.

The saxophone of Chris Speed sometimes takes a countryside stroll, sometimes rushes hurriedly through the landscape.  There are times that Hilmar Jensson’s guitar and Skuli Sverrisson’s bass twitter collaboratively in the background, and others when their paths diverge and guitar becomes a searing laser beam while bass gurgles happily like a lively stream.  Black’s drums may well be the embodiment of the footfalls of his travels… their cadence, each time for each song, locks into the pulse of his surroundings, as if measuring his quartet as he would a new city.

Rarely do album songs end in the spot from where they began.  Often a brooding serenity grows into a fiery intensity, and just as often, that intensity gradually diminishes to a contented glow.  Melodies begin with presence and then slowly dissipate into the expanse of the rhythm.  Those same rhythms often change pace with a breathless abandon, sometimes carrying the quartet on its shoulders, sometimes mirroring the quartet’s collaborative direction.

It’s more accurate to refer to the album tracks as pieces, rather than songs.  There is an appealing formlessness to the music’s structure, presenting an uncountable array of possibilities for what might come next.

It’s an album of surprise, not unlike traveling.  And like traveling, the memories of this music will bring the listener back again and again.

Released on the Winter & Winter label.

Available at eMusic.  Available at Amazon: CD | MP3